Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Vegetarian Athlete Part Two: How Is It Going?

In my previous post  I explained that I had finally decided to address my problems with weight and nutrition in relation to my running .  My decision to take meaningful action on this had been brought on partially through my own observations, but had been pushed over the edge by reading Scott Jurek's book Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. I decided to focus more on the quality of the food I was putting in my body and to give a vegetarian diet a try.

Now I am about seven weeks into the change. In the past seven weeks, I have eaten meat only twice, both times when eating out (a steak salad and some chili that contained meat). I have drastically changed my food choices and am now eating a diet that is almost exclusively vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, with some dairy and eggs mixed in. I have drastically reduced my consumption of diet soda, replacing it with iced green tea. I have eliminated nearly all junk food from my diet (if you don't count frozen yogurt or apple chips as junk food).  How is it going?  Pretty well. Here are some of my observations:

1. It is easier than I thought it would be to make the changes. If a person is going to make this type of change, summer is the best time to do it. There are so many fresh fruits and vegetables available at this time of year, that it is easy to forget that the meal does not include meat. It is also easy for me to choose salads for lunch and dinner when it is hot like it has been. Fresh fruit for a snack always seems like a good idea in the summer, with the variety of yummy choices available. I don't know if this will change in the fall, but for now that aspect is working.

I don't miss meat nearly as much as I thought I would. Interestingly, I don't crave chicken at all. I used to eat a lot of chicken, so I was surprised about this one. A few times early in the process I did crave steak (as evidenced by the steak salad), but even that has gone away. Truthfully, any cravings I get now are normally brought on by burger commercials, and all I have to do is think about how bad most of those are for me or how the advertisers are manipulating me, and that is enough to put that thought to the back of my mind. I have already decided that if I do eat meat, it is going to be quality stuff, like lean steak or pork chops, but so far I haven't really wanted either of those enough to actually have some. The meat cravings tend to be very short-lived. The diet soda cravings are way more intense for me. What is it about carbonation that makes it so addictive?

2. It is fun to learn a new way of eating. I like to learn things and try new things, so I am actually having fun with this. I am learning about new foods that I have not done a lot with before, such as tofu, tempeh, quinoa and other grains, and am trying new recipes. I am also learning how to use vegetables I am familiar with in new ways.  

From Incredible Smoothies: How to make a  Green Smoothie
Last night I made portobello pizzas, not as a substitute for real pizza, but as a fun new way to work with portobello mushrooms. A few days ago, I made a creamy cauliflower and mushroom soup from scratch. Thanks to a recipe posted by Dr. Tom (of fixing my IT band fame), I made eggplant subs. I have also tried my first "green" smoothies, using kale and spinach, respectively. Some of the stuff, I have not been crazy about and will not try again (not a fan of kale in the smoothie, but the spinach was surprisingly good). Most of the things I have tried I have really liked.

My Little Garden
An added bonus is that I have found several new and interesting resources. I am a magazine junkie, and I am delighted right now with Vegetarian Times. I have also found a new blog that I really enjoy, Closet Cooking, which has some great recipes. This is not an all vegetarian site, but there are many, many recipes there that are vegetarian or which can be easily adapted to be so. I have also planted a little garden to help supply some of the vegetables that we use the most. 

3. It does seem to be helping with inflammation and energy levels. This is a hard one to prove because it is so subjective. I can say very confidently that the diet changes have made a difference with the inflammation. I am nowhere near as sore as I was six weeks ago. The soreness after short and easy workouts is almost completely gone, and the soreness after hard workouts is greatly reduced.  I have not had to use NSAIDs, except for after the trail marathon at Keyes Peak.

In terms of energy levels, this is a tougher one. I do seem to  have more energy, but that could also be because my stress level from work is currently down. I do seem to be sleeping better most of the time, but I am still having middle age hormonal issues that sometimes interfere there. As a whole, this aspect is slightly better. 

4.  My weight is coming down.  Since I made the diet change, I have not been counting calories. I have pretty much been eating all I want, but trying to make better choices when I do. I am still eating six meals a day, and my portions do tend to be a little out of control, but because of the food choices I am making (more fruits and vegetables), I am still losing weight. I have lost 3-4 pounds in the last six weeks. That is despite having developed a serious frozen yogurt habit in the past week or so.

5. Making better food choices is not as convenient. The one drawback to this change so far is that it does take a little more thought and planning than my previous diet did. We are eating a lot less packaged and processed food. Making meals from scratch, even simple meals, takes a little more time and some planning. I think part of this is a learning curve, though. In the beginning, it seemed like it was a lot harder to "throw together" a meal or figure out what to have for lunch or dinner. Now that I am a little more used to things, it is getting easier. Another aspect of the "not as convenient" is that we shop more often, especially for fresh fruit and vegetables.

We also are doing a lot less "fast food."  Despite the fact that many fast food restaurants now boast "healthy" choices, these are mostly salads, and they are way overpriced and often not that good. Fast food has been pretty much reduced to either bean and rice burritos or veggie delight subs (which are actually quite good and only $5 at Subway). 

As a whole, I am pretty satisfied that I am on track with the nutrition and the food choices I am making. This brings it down to the last two questions on all runners' minds: Is it helping my running? Is it going to make me faster?

I think the answer to these questions is yes, but it is a little early to tell for sure. I did have a trail marathon PR last week, but I am not sure if that is diet related or course related. I am lighter, which should result in some improvement in times. My training is going very well. The lessened soreness is doing a lot to help with the regular training, and I think I am running better because of it. I will know more as time passes, but for now, I feel that I am moving in the right direction. I feel that this piece of my overall performance is starting to come into line with my training. Hopefully the race results over the next few months will bear this out. I will keep you posted with updates.

Related Articles:

1 comment:

  1. I sometimes wonder if the reduced inflammation is more from the reduction in salt on such a diet than the diet itself! Either way of course a reduction in inflammation is definitely a plus!


I would love to hear from you!! Please feel free to comment, ask questions, leave ideas for future postings, or just say "hi."